Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 2
Did I mention I take some really long walks? Sometimes they last for weeks. On foot, it’s a long way from a city to the mountains. I missed a lot of things from before the end. Cars. Cars were good. Twenty miles in twenty minutes. Fast food restaurants. “God, what I wouldn’t give for a Big Mac right now.” Radio stations. Days of walking, days of being alone, nights spent in a little one man tent, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, with no music.
The list was endless. Computers. Cameras. Phones. It would have been great to call Valerie, and talk. Just to hear her. Listen to her laughter. The music in her voice. But it was gone. It was all gone.
Hell, even a flashlight would have been good. I could have read at night. In the tent. But, we ran out of batteries forever ago. Even the batteries were gone. Never imagined I’d see that. Those used to be everywhere. 40 AAA batteries in a box. $10.
A lot of people died, you know. A lot of people. They starved. They died of thirst. How do you find water when the faucets stop working? What do you do when the toilet stops flushing? When the heat turns off? When the grocery down the road runs out of food? A lot of people never found any answers.
I walked during the day, by the light of the sun. I camped at night. Never beside the road. Always out of sight, in the trees, or the brush. Hiding. Praying to see the sun the next morning.
I had a picture of Valerie. Hand drawn. No batteries, remember. Cameras didn’t work. Hannah could draw, though. She’d drawn a picture of Valerie for me, so I could take it on my long walks. Valerie. With her blonde hair. And her blue eyes. She was my heart. My soul. Why I kept going. Kept trying.
She cried every time I left. “Promise me you’ll come back.”
And I always promised. We both knew it was a lie. “I’ll come back. I’ll always come back.” We both knew I might not. We both knew I could die a thousand ways on each trip. Attacked by one of the roaming gangs.
At sunrise on the third day of my walk, I heard an eagle cry. When I peeked out, the biggest eagle I’d ever seen was outside the tent. One of Jessica’s friends. The eagle nodded its head and flapped it’s wings. It was time to start the day.
I rolled up my bedding, remembering when I had a sleeping bag, and not a bunch of rags crudely stitched together. I rolled up the layers into a single roll. I remembered pillows. Soft, cushy, warm pillows. So much nicer than the ground. Even with a bunch of lumpy cloth stuck under my head, the ground was still cold, and hard. And liked to suck the heat out of you.
I tied my covers to the bottom of my backpack, then quickly pulled the two wooden posts that held the tent up out of the ground. I pulled up the wooden stakes, and rolled everything up in the tent. I tied the tent roll to the backpack.
Have you ever had that cardboard taste in your mouth. When you’re throat dries out, and you feel like someone stuck cardboard in your mouth, and it stuck to your teeth, your gums, and the roof of your mouth. And tastes awful. Yeah. That cardboard. That old taste that said, “You lived through another night.”
I put on my backpack, and picked up my bag of books, and started walking. West. Following the path of the sun. No roads for me. Roads were too dangerous. Besides, they didn’t lead home. All I had to guide me was the sun, the wind, an old compass, and landmarks. I hoped I didn’t get lost again, spending weeks trying to find my way back to the camp.
“It’s like shooting an arrow at something you can’t see. And praying you hit it.”
I couldn’t mark my path. Mark the path, and you get found. You get found, and you get dead.
So, I walked. West. Through nowhere. After a couple of hours, I took a few swallows of water from my canteen. Just enough to wet my throat, and wash the dust out of my mouth. With any luck, I’d find a creek, or stream in a day or two. And could refill my canteen.
One good thing about the forest and the brush. You can find things to eat. Like dandelion. Wild berries. You learn what you can eat. And you learn to eat what you can. It’s eat weeds, or starve sometimes. Eat tree leaves. Eat anything you can. To stay alive.
As I walked, the sky grew dark, clouds blotting out the sun. I smelled the rain long before it started. There’d been a time I hid from the rain. Staying dry, inside my family’s home. Not anymore. Now, I pulled out an old rag, to get it soaked in the rain. I could wring water out of it. And water kept me alive.
Rain washed off the dust, and grime. I pulled off my hat, let the rain soak my head, wash some of the dirt off. I thought of Valerie. Waiting for me. It would have been easy to stop. To give up. To wander off, and slowly starve to death, or die of thirst. Like so many others had.
But I had Valerie. And the others at the camp. Trying to learn to survive. They needed me.
I needed them.
I needed her.
As I walked through the rain, I slowly washed the dirt from my arms and hands. The rain picked up, growing until I had to find a place to stop, and let the storm pass while I hid among the trees. I wasn’t trying to stay dry. Just trying to stay out of the wind.
It took an hour, but the storm passed, moving eastward, toward the coast. I liked to pretend we were near the coast. And the beach. Even though I knew it would take weeks to reach them. Dad used to take us to the beach every summer. We’d ride in his truck.
Then the world ended.
And I needed to walk. West. Toward home. Toward Valerie.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.